KABUL (Reuters) – Suspected Taliban insurgents killed three female aid workers and their Afghan driver in an ambush on Wednesday, officials said, the bloodiest single attack on foreign humanitarian workers in Afghanistan in recent years.
Rising violence has already forced aid agencies to restrict humanitarian work at a time when drought and high prices are putting more people under pressure.
The three women, a British-Canadian, a Canadian and a Trinidadian-American, worked for the U.S.-based International Rescue Committee (IRC) and were ambushed as they were traveling north towards Kabul through the province of Logar.
“We are stunned and profoundly saddened by this tragic loss,” said George Rupp, president of the IRC in the statement.
“Words are inadequate to express our sympathy for the families and loved ones of the victims and our devoted team of humanitarian aid workers in Afghanistan,” he said.
Abdullah Wardak, the governor of Logar province, said the women and their driver were killed by small-arms fire from another car.
The U.S.-based IRC’s work in Afghanistan focuses on providing returning refugees with shelter, water and sanitation, and developing the health care system.
But the agency has now suspended all its humanitarian aid programs in Afghanistan indefinitely, the IRC said.
Aid agencies this month complained that rising violence was hampering their work and said 19 Afghan NGO staff had been killed this year.
Three district IRC offices have been attacked and destroyed since March, the IRC Web site said. Two Afghans working for IRC were killed in an ambush, also in Logar province, in July 2007.
The United Nations said all sides in the conflict must recognize the neutrality of humanitarian workers.
“I condemn this cowardly attack in the strongest possible terms and urge the authorities to leave no stone unturned in the search for the perpetrators,” said Aleem Siddique, the U.N. spokesman in Afghanistan.
Violence has surged in Afghanistan this year with more clashes in each of the past three months than in any month since U.S.-led and Afghan forces toppled the Taliban in 2001.